A couple years ago, I wrote a post called “Open Source in Law Firms – Unimaginable or Brilliant?” where I wondered if a BigLaw firm would consider using Open Source software for some of their technology needs. I mentioned Kuali, an open-source accounting system as an opportunity, but then went on to beg everyone not to use that example to your IT departments as their introduction into using open-source software. There is one open-source software out there, however, that may be a better introduction to the idea, and it just happens to be a library automation package, so it is also an ideal situation for the law librarian that has a techie side as well.

Koha is an amazing Integrated Library System (ILS) with many of the same features that you find in the very expensive “closed-source” systems that are common in law libraries. I’ve actually been playing around with Koha for years now and have found it to be incredibly powerful and pretty easy to use. I was first introduced to the product back around 2002 when I was a Project Manager on a FEMA project and we were needing a MARC catalog to process hundreds of thousands of records. In the end, we went with a much more basic open-source product called PhpMyLibrary because it was very simple and we didn’t need the bells and whistles that Koha brought. However, some eight years later, I’m testing the Koha waters again to see if it would function as an alternative to the major ILS’ in a law firm environment. I’m just in the early stages, but I can tell you that it does look promising.

I’ll update the status of the project from time to time, but I’ll run through some of the steps that I’ve had to go through so far:

  • If you really want to run Koha, you have to have a Linux server – if your IT department won’t support that, you’ll need to either test it outside your network, or buy access to a hosted system that will allow you root access to the Linux Box (this ain’t easy to find… trust me!) There used to be a Windows version of Koha, but that went away a few years ago, so don’t waste your time on that one. Hint: Go to the bookstore and buy a $15 Linux Magazine with a Ubuntu Install Disc. Yes, you can install Linux for free, but the install disc will save you so much time and effort!!
  • If you want to skip the set up and run Koha on a hosted system, you can do that as well, but it will cost money. I’ve seen it as low as $750 a year for complete hosted services. Considering it would probably cost you more to buy a Linux machine, this is a deal. Note: The Hosted Support doesn’t charge you for Koha, they only charge you for the maintenance of the system.  (Hosted Support)
  • I’ve actually set up a Ubuntu box with Koha 3.4 installed, and it took me about half-a-day to get everything set up correctly. Let me help you out by pointing you to an instruction guide that I wished I would have found earlier that walked me through the process of installing the ILS.
  • Once you have everything installed:
        1. Set up your library branches first (if you only have one location, then consider yourself lucky!)
        2. Import your users into the system next (there is a way to import an Excel spreadsheet with the specific information you need for new users.)
        3. Then import your MARC cataloging records.
  • Speaking of MARC records, hopefully the system you are currently using actually lets you export your MARC records. If you’re like me, and the system doesn’t allow you to export them… well, then you’ve got yourself some problems. There are two choices here, both of which call for another free software called MarcEdit (an awesome project supported by Oregon State University.)
        1. If you have access to the database structure of the old ILS, you’ll need to follow the instructions of MarcEdit to export the fields you need into a text file, then MarcEdit will actually convert these to MARC record files for import into the Koha system. Note: This is complicated, and requires at least some basic programming knowledge… which, luckily, I have!)
        2. You can, hopefully, use either the OCLC, Library of Congress, or other Z39.50 import feature built into Koha to bring in records that match your current catalog. If you can build a list of these standard numbers, you can batch import the records instead of having to do it one at a time. If you do have the ability to batch process the MARC records, then I suggest that you do it through the MarcEdit product initially, because you can edit the records before you import them into Koha (thus allowing you to add local information before hand in an automated way, rather than individually.)
  • Learn about the 952 fields and subfields… this will allow you to bring in the item records (the individual volumes of each title) and link them to your branch locations, as well as bring in specific information linked to each of those volumes.
Well, that’s about as far as I am into the project at this time. As things progress, I’ll let you know. There are certain features of Koha that I have not tested so far, but have on my project list:
  • Circulation Module
  • Serials Module
  • Acquisitions
  • Routing Lists
  • More…
Just to let you know, I’m not the first to play around in the Koha environment. I know that Brooklyn Law School is using it for their Integrated Library System, as well as a number of other University and Public Library institutions. I’m not sure if any BigLaw firms have made the dive, but if you have, contact me off-blog and let me know how it is going (good or bad.)
[Note: I initially said that the Brooklyn Law School was using it for a special collection. They contacted me to let me know they are actually using it for their ILS and are pretty satisfied with how things are going.]